I have just learned, a few months after the fact, that the artist Jodi Rose has gotten married.
Jodi Rose, an Australian artist who travels the world recording the vibrations of bridge cables for her “Singing Bridges” music project, knew it was true love the first time she laid eyes on Le Pont du Diable, a 600-year-old bridge in Southern France.
On June 17, the intimate affair was held at the entrance of her groom with around 20 guests in attendance, including the mayor of Arles-sur-Tech, a neighboring town. The beaming bride kept it traditional on her not-so-traditional wedding day, wearing a floor-length ivory dress and carrying a beautiful bouquet, Oddity Central reported.
Rings were exchanged to the Johnny Cash version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
In honor of their wedding, I include here the complete, unpublished version of the interview I conducted with Jodi in 2004. This interview was cut into an interview with Mark Bain to become the “Bridges As Bells” chapter of Sound Generation.The love of bridges is a recurring theme and I think it lays out many of Jodi’s previous romances that led up to this joyful occasion.
Congratulations, Jodi & Le Pont du Diable!!
Alexis Bhagat interviewing Jodi Rose outside Kiasma, 2004
Lex: So, you began this current oeuvre of yours with the Anzac Bridge in Sydney. Can you tell me what it was about the bridge that drew you? The moment of love, the moment you began…
Jodi: Well, the moment I began was probably one day sitting on the bus, on my way to art school, because I was going towards and back on the bus every day, and looking up at the bridge, during its construction. While it was being built it looked really weird and over-engineered for the place that it’s in. The old bridge is built on sandstone piers close to the water, and was a low four-lane steel bridge with truss spans, which opened to allow shipping into Johnstons Bay, Blackwattle and Rozelle bays.
And now there’s this massive monolithic concrete structure being built next to it. The new bridge had concrete towers 40 storeys high, is 345 metres long, and had these striking black cables! The ordering of the cables is called a “harp arrangement”. I looked at the cables and thought, “they look like a musical instrument. I’d like to play that someday. I wonder what it sounds like?” I think the first moment starting this journey here was idle curiosity on the bus.
Lex: So how did you come to play the bridge?
Jodi: Well, when I made the recording, I actually wrote a letter to the then executive producer of The Listening Room which is the audio arts program at ABC. It has been going for fifteen years, and has unfortunately just been axed! I am doing a residency there at the moment, which has a nice circularity that nine years later I’ve ended up working with this same crew. I wrote to them and said, I’ve got this opportunity to record this bridge and I’d really love it if you’d help me because I don’t have any equipment that will do it justice. And they were excited and said , “sure we’d love to help because we’d like to know what it sounds like too!” So, they sent me up with two sound engineers, John Jacobs and Philip Ulman, and a whole lot of equipment and Roz Cheney came too. We drove up onto the a building site. I always regret that I didn’t walk out to the end of the road. But, I was kind of obsessed by the cables even then. The ABC had these C-Ducer contact microphones –these long thin strips that are used to mic up things like grand pianos. The cables before they’re finished are exposed, there’s 25-78 strands in each cable. At the end when they are completed they are covered in a thick polyethalene plastic.
Bridge engineers want to minimize the vibrations in the cables; my project is about tuning into those vibrations and listening to them, really hearing them. We placed the microphones inside the multiple strands of cables. That bridge is one of my favorites, because of the sound.
Lex: Because of the recording you could make, or because of the bridge itself?
Jodi: The bridge itself, because it was unfinished. There are really beautiful moments with the sound, where it goes into these rhythms with the wind, and popping and “pow”ing from the cables. It’s really quite special.
We went up. I was sort of just tapping gently on the cable and that would make the long “piiiooouwww” noise. And then, sometimes it was the wind. We spent only about an hour there. That was all the time we could have, but I got enough material there to be quite excited.
Lex: But, how did you get the opportunity to record?
Jodi: Oh. I wrote a letter to the head engineer at the Roads and Traffic Authority, Peter Wellings, who was in charge of building the bridge.
Lex: Did you try to go there at first on your own? Or did you plan at the outset to approach this as an official project?
Jodi: It was a pretty serious construction site. They were working night and day, they had to pour the concrete at night so it would set at the right temperature.
On most bridges that are open to pedestrians, I would be able to walk on and make a recording, no problems. In this instance it needed to be through the official channels because you can’t just walk through a building site and go and whack things on a bridge. Even before the terrorist threat became such a major issue, they seemed quite nervous about their structures.
Lex: How did the engineer respond to your letter?
Jodi: He responded really well!
It was part of a project that had been set in a public art class, with Nigel Helyer who is an Australian sound artist. He’s very inspiring. Fantastic! We also had Joyce Hinterding who is another great artist, she does beautiful stuff with satellites and sound. [See Earth Sound Earth Signal for more on Hinterding. — Lex 2013]
Nigel’s assignment was to imagine a public art project with no constraints, where everything was possible and you didn’t have to worry about money or feasibility or actually being able to do it. I decided to do what my impossible dream was!
I wrote a letter. I have these little poetic reveries now and then. “The city is our temple. The electronic networks are our religion and the voice of the Glebe Island Bridge cables is the voice of the divine.” I think he responded to that because it was a little kooky and out there. When I was there to make the recording, he got out a model of the bridge and said, ‘Here’s God on the telephone for you!’
Obviously it tapped into something for an engineer to go, ‘Oh, that’s interesting!’ They’d had other requests to have concerts on the bridge, film clips. They’d actually turned down most of them except for mine, and later a few people who wanted to propose on the bridge.
They’re still really quite protective of it. Because it’s been renamed the Anzac Bridge- activities on it have to be in the spirit of Anzac. It’s interesting, because when the war in Iraq started, the sound of the anti-aircraft missiles was really spookily, eerily similar to the sounds in the cables in that particular bridge.
Lex: And what bridge came after that?
Jodi: That piece had an interesting life of its own. The ABC, because they’d helped me record it, kept a copy of the DAT tape. Julie Rigg at ABC Radio made a program for Arts Today about the Art of Bridges. She talked to Peter Wellings and he said “Oh, yeah, this girl Jodi Rose from this art school came and made a recording… I haven’t heard it yet. I don’t know if she’s happy with it.” And they were like, “here’s what it sounds like.”
Lex: So, your work was simply to go and do the recording? You didn’t handle the presentation?
Jodi: No, I did present it. I’d gone and done my own thing with it, and they used it completely independently in Julie’s Art of Bridges program. Alessio Cavallaro who is a curator of sound art heard it on the radio while he was driving and went “Wow! That’s great!” They had mentioned the art school, and so he got in contact with Nigel, and told him that he was interested in including this work in a show he was curating, an Audiotheque for Sound in Space at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. That was in 1995. Douglas Kahn came to that show, and he liked the piece: He said it was the only moment of noise in the exhibition, and included it in “The Lyre’s Island” issue of Leonardo. I was in my second year of art school, and suddenly I was in this context of who were my lecturers, and – people who were international sound art gurus. Percy Grainger, Rainer Linz, Frances Dyson, Joyce Hinterding. I was like “Wow! This is all kind of crazy! That was way too fast and too easy! I’d better do something that’s more difficult.” I applied for Sound Culture that Ed Osborn was organizing in ’96 in San Francisco. I wanted to record the Golden Gate Bridge but actually, I took a break from it for quite a few years. I didn’t get to the Golden Gate until 2002.
Lex: What did you do while you took a break?
Jodi: Oh, I don’t know. I just sort of had a job, did stuff, lived. Nothing in particular. Moved to Melbourne. That was nice. I lived there for five years.
I was working in a telecommunications company and I decided I had to get back into doing something with my art practice. I got to the age of thirty and went “I thought there would be more to my life than this?” I think it’s nice to have that time to drift away from it. You filter through things in life, and you’re not always producing; always “Oh, I have to make art out of this!” It comes to you naturally.
So, I enrolled in a Masters program in media art in June in 2000, basically, to motivate me to get back into doing it. I proposed to make recordings of bridges around the world, to create a global symphony of bridges. And, also to explore the theoretical side of the sound of bridges. I have an idea that it’s like a language, the voice of the bridge. The patterns of the sound of bridges, strongly repeated patterns, sound to me like a language I can’t understand. It’s like being in Finland or being in Vietnam. All around you, these sounds are coming out of the mouths of people and you know that they’re meaningful because people seem to understand each other. Finnish in particular. It’s such a different sounding language. So, maybe the bridges are talking in Finnish. I don’t know. I’ll have to ask a Finn. [laughs]
Lex: How would you compose this symphony?
Jodi: I’ve had a few different ideas. Actually I just had a very interesting discussion with Sami Järvinen who is in the Kampi Reconstruction and The Weather Matrix group, about not wanting to impose structure on something like that. Because I am quite inspired by the John Cage principle of tuning in and accepting the sound around you in the world as music. You don’t have to do anything to it. But I’m exploring different methods of composition at the moment. I’ve been doing – what I’ve been calling compositions – that are just slightly edited selections. Juxtaposing and compiling pieces from single bridges. So, I’m keeping them all separate for the moment.
I haven’t started putting them together. My idea is to use them like instrumentation, like a symphony.
I’m looking forward to collaborating with someone who is from a musical background. I studied music, but I don’t call myself a musician or think of myself as a musician. Conceptual sound artist is a fairly apt description of what I do.
Lex: Besides composition, is part of what you’re concerned with making a very good recording of the bridge?
Jodi: It can be a concern. It can be quite hard to get a really high-fidelity recording, because bridges are essentially quite noisy environments. You can’t control the conditions, you have a lot of extraneous or accidental noise. But, I think that’s all part of it as well.
I’m still working on getting microphones that get the range of frequencies that I want. Because the one’s I’ve been using which are really easy and great to use are the Schaller Oyster Piezo Pickups or transducers. And, they’re good but they don’t get much of the low-frequency. And, I’ve got some of the strip ones with me. I have a whole DI box to pump up their signal. And that was just getting really really noisy. I went to a bridge this week in Helsinki, the Heureka Silta in Vantaa I couldn’t use them because there was so much hissing buzz from the machinery. So, I guess I’m still refining the form, the technology, but at some point I feel the technology isn’t as important as the idea and actually going out and doing it. If I waited until I had the perfect technology I wouldn’t do it.
It’s interesting presenting these sounds to people. I’m always a little bit shy. They’re not high-fidelity recordings at all. And I go “Hmmm! What are people going to think!?”
Lex: And what do people think?
Jodi: Overwhelmingly, people are pretty positive. I think people are quite blown away by the range of sounds, are interested to hear them, and the quality of the sounds is part of the experience. If it was a pristine, pure, engineered sound, it would be something different.
I really love the futurist manifesto, The Art of Noise, which I was re-reading recently. It talks about walking through the city and composing a symphony in your head from all the clanging doors and the automobiles and airplanes and all the industrial noises. I hadn’t read that when I came up with my project, but it’s obviously informed me back into my thinking about the project.
Let us cross a great modern capital with our ears more alert than our eyes, and we will get enjoyment from distinguishing the eddying of water, air and gas in metal pipes, the grumbling of noises that breathe and pulse with indisputable animality, the palpitation of valves, the coming and going of pistons, the howl of mechanical saws, the jolting of a tram on its rails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of curtains and flags. We enjoy creating mental orchestrations of the crashing down of metal shop binds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din, from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning wheels, printing works, electric power stations and underground railways.
– Luigi Russolo
Lex: Bridges are visual objects. Nations raise them up as sources of pride, and they try to make the longest or the tallest. And, you’re taking something that is so valorized and visually iconic, and, here you are making an aural representation, totally twisting that into something different. That’s very powerful.
Then, there’s the odd fact that while some people have never ever wondered what a bridge sounds like, there are other people all over the world who have thought obsessively all their lives about what a bridge would sound like!
Jodi: Yeah! It’s funny. I’ve met quite a few people in my travels: “Oh yes! I made recording of this bridge in Hamburg!” or in Sweden there was someone who had just made a recording of this bridge in Gotenburg. It’s obviously an idea that’s in the air. It’s about perception as well. Playing with the ideas of how you perceive the world and what you’re expectations are. Because most people who “love bridges” are going to see a bridge – walk out on it and photograph it. I’ve never seen anyone else out there recording the sound, though obviously there are a few people. It’s amazing how many people tell me about their favorite bridge as well. “Oh! They’ve got this really great bridge here!” I’m just stockpiling [all these references]. In fact, Andrew Paterson who is doing the locative media workshop here showed me a great website about the Transporter Bridge in Middlesborough, Yorkshire, England. It’s this quite zany structure. It’s steel and it’s two pylons, with a cross thing at the top- and it’s stops. There’s no road on it. It doesn’t go anywhere. But, these cables actually come down, and it’s a ferry. Cars go onto it and it goes across the body of water.
Lex: Sounds like an organism almost.
Jodi: Yeah! It’s some weird War of the Worlds things. So, now I’ve got to go to Middlesborough but it’s such a great bridge.
Lex: Do you think there is any social importance or social effect to creating a sonic representation of a bridge?
Jodi: For me, it’s been interesting to go from the idea to something that I was in the process of realizing. I’ve completed a certain part of it, things are following from that, and I’m moving on to the next part of it. When I was actually travelling, or even now, telling people what I’m doing, there’s this certain wow! You can see their perceptions shift for a moment. People who haven’t thought about it before, without having that art or music, will go That’s a really interesting idea! It changes the way they see (and hear) the world a little bit.
In that performance today (The Grey Zone: Weathermatrix), I was just thinking that I’m ready to dislocate myself again. I don’t like being fixed in a place. The nomadic thing is quite important. I guess it’s that desire to keep on moving out, exploring, being in different places in the world. When I was saying before that I think the bridges have a language, that they are saying something, I think what they are saying is Be Present! Be here! Be in your body! < I love the idea that bridges create a location. Heidegger. There’s this one lovely paragraph about how bridges create the location between the fourfold, between heaven and earth, divinities and mortals. It allows the location to appear. Before there is a bridge, there is a stream with banks along it. When you build the bridge, that’s the point that actually makes the place come into being.
I think, for me, it’s really something strong about being, and about being still. It’s quite a reflective contemplative space, on a bridge. You’re still in the flow of life. There’s traffic and people flowing beside you. There’s a river flowing under you usually. But, you’re somehow slightly removed from it, or slightly outside space and time, suspended.
Then there’s the whole thing of bridges being thresholds. In films, they often function as the transition between an old life and a new, a good place and a dangerous place, life and death. Like in It’s a Wonderful Life, where Jimmy Steward is about to jump off the bridge, and Clarence, the unlikely angel comes and says “Hey, no! Look how you’ve contributed to this society! Your very presence has made a difference to it.”
It’s interesting. The Golden Gate is apparently the leading place for suicide in the world – or at least in America. Over a thousand people have jumped off it since it was built. But, I’ve been reading all this research, and there are a few people who had survived jumping off it, and some of them seemed to be people who were not particularly contemplating suicide, but they arrived at that point and just could not control the urge to throw themselves over the edge. That’s what vertigo is a little bit. It’s that pull to be taken over the edge. I get a little bit nervous because I do feel that sometime.
Lex: You do?! What’s that like?
Jodi: Just that it would be so nice to plunge and sink and float over. It’s a bit scary. It’s that thing of just wanting to step out, to step out into space or the unknown. I get it on cliffs as well. There’re fantastic cliffs in Sydney with this really strong wind. You can kind of lean a bit over the cliff and scare yourself. It’s good.
I think that’s one of the reasons that I’m drawn to bridges. I didn’t particularly love bridges before I started doing this project, or come to it with an obsession about bridges. It was an idea about sound that has led into this discovery.
Lex: You fell in love.
Jodi: Yeah. Once you get involved and engaged, you can’t go back. It changes you.
Lex: For me, that gets back to the social impact. You’re doing an intervention for yourself, but it transforms that place, transforms that city.
Jodi: A lot of people I know in Sydney say they always think of ANZAC as my bridge when they go past it. It’s transformed their relationship to the city as well, and their idea of the bridge. It gives people a way to think about the structure in a different way, to imagine it as being like a giant harp. Although when I spoke to the engineer again, he said many of the people involved in building it refer to it as “Fred’s bridge”, or “John’s bridge.”
Lex: I’m wondering how the people playing on the bridge affects the work, affects everything. Was that always part of your idea?
Jodi: With the symphony idea, it wasn’t the idea that someone was playing the bridge. It was the idea that the bridges were playing themselves, an Aeolian bridge, a self-playing instrument, like the Aeolian harp, which is played by the wind.
I’ve had people have two different responses to the playing and the intervention that way. Some people are more purist and into the existing environmental sound, the landscape, the materiality of the bridge itself. They say, “no it’s more beautiful and pure if you don’t touch it”. If you simply amplify what is going on there and transmit it in some form.
I’m not sure if I completely agree with that. On some level, I like the idea of the bridge talking itself and singing and speaking and playing itself. But, it isn’t ever really playing itself. There is always vibration from wind, and traffic and also the vibration inherent in the structure.
Lex: Is there a tone that would come out if you could somehow “strike” the whole bridge?
Jodi: Yes, each one has its own resonant frequency, as we know from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which collapsed. But, I’m not completely convinced by that. I’m actually happy with intervention as well. It is a little bit a matter of finiding what kind of sound there is on the structure, so when I’m actually on the bridge recording, I feel like I am playing the bridge as an instrument. Because I’ll go to different areas and – it depends on if there’s traffic or wind or something, there will be quite alot of signal of some kind.
The Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate- absolutely fantastic. Oh my god! Old steel cabled suspension bridges. The cables are just naked. They’re just there! And, it’s beautiful. I love it. The sound from those two bridges is just wonderful. They’re gorgeous. So, I didn’t feel the need or the desire to intervene at all.
But there are some cases, like when I went to Vietnam- I had gone to Vietnam to record this bridge, the My Thuan Bridge over the Mekong Delta, south of Ho Chi Minh City. It was built as part of an Australian aid program [there]. Beautiful blue cables. I had to go on this three day tour to get down to it. I told the guide that I really wanted to walk across that bridge. “Could you let me out and I’ll walk back?” The guide says: “Crazy Australian”, but he asked the drivers to let me out, and comes with me to walk across. So, I walked onto this bridge and it was really really hot. It’s first one I’d done after a long break. The first one I’d done on my own. The first one overseas. I put the microphones on the cables and went… “There’s NOTHING! No signal at all! There’s absolutely no sound coming out of this.” Then, I kind of went, “What am I going to do? I’ve come all this way to this bridge in Vietnam, and there’s no sound from it.” So, then I decided, ok, I’m just going to start banging on bits of the structure and see what sound it would make.
I guess it was necessity. Necessity is the mother of intervention!
When I was at the bridge in Rotterdam, the Erasmus Bridge, the cables themselves weren’t the most sonically alive. The railings and parts of the pylons and some of the mechanisms – because it opened – had lots more going on. So, I had to relax my idea that it was just the cables that I would record, because they were like the guitar strings.
Lex: And as your friend pointed out-
Jodi: Exactly! You don’t record the strings, you record the resonance. So the rest of the bridge is resonant. Then I thought, yeah, that’s good. I’m allowed that.
But, I did have to relax the categories that I was operating in. And, then I came to Finland, which was the third bridge I’d done. And, yes, Lasse, my friend who is a musician and a drummer and plays Kantele said, “Hey do you want to do something on it?” And he climbed up and was kind of drumming on it. That’s really different, but I loved that.
So, I’m not really one way or another, with the playing or the non-playing. It’s fun to play on a bridge. I don’t have any really great rhythms. I like getting the sort of bell tones.
Lex: Yeah. One of them sounded like a gong! How did you get that gong sound?
Jodi: This is a cable. This is my hand. [She beats the cable.] You just need to do it once, but the guide, I think he got really excited because he kept doing it.
There’s a really beautiful bell sound from the bridge in Helsinki as well, which is on the metal pylons. Often, I’ll just do one hit and then let the sound decay, and then play with building it up.
I’ve found that the bell sounds are intriguing because they’re all really different. I spoke in the seminar about how there seems to be a site and cultural specificity within the bridges. Like the bridge in Vietnam, I’ve had a number of people comment to me that it sounds like an asian gong. And this bridge that I’ve recorded here last week sounds really really Nordic! Icy and cold. It was another case of the cables not making much sound, and I started banging on it with my ring. Just getting that bell sound. And it was really different.
One of the people who contacted me through my website – he was searching “cable vibration” – is an engineer who works for a large firm, VSL. They are building a bridge in Bangkok. He said he’s installing the cables in 2005 and has invited me to come and make a recording while they are being tensioned!
And he also has this beautiful idea of tuning them to a note. Usually when you’re measuring the bridge, you reassess the cables with complex physics things you have to see if they are they still safe. If you tuned them, you could just hit them with a tuning fork and listen to see if it’s making the same note. Then you’d know it was all still ok.
Lex: What a splendid idea!
Jodi: Yes. I hope it works out! The engineer has just written me a fabulously technical letter, talking about how my work could lead to “exciting developments in strand or stay cable force monitoring through sound frequencies, in construction and future bridge maintenance programs.” That would be a surprising and exciting new direction, but ultimately I’m happy if people can listen to the sounds and hear something completely unexpected and unique in the voice of each bridge. Of course, I am still working on creating the Global Bridge Symphony, with bridges around the world being played live in a networked performance that is streamed over the net, broadcast on radio and maybe out into space!!
The Lyre’s Island: Some Australian Music, Sound Art and Design curated by Douglas Kahn